The in vitro replication of adenovirus (Ad) DNA covalently attached to the 55-kDa terminal protein requires at least five proteins including the 80-kDa preterminal protein, the Ad DNA polymerase, the Ad DNA binding protein, nuclear factor I, and topoisomerase I. The replication of Ad DNA templates devoid of the terminal protein requires an additional protein, designated factor pL, which has been purified from uninfected HeLa cell nuclei (Guggenheimer, R. A., Nagata, K., Kenny, M., and Hurwitz, J. (1984) J. Biol. Chem. 259, 7815-7825). Factor pL has been found to contain an intrinsic 5'----3' exonuclease activity. When Ad DNA templates lacking the terminal protein were pretreated with factor pL, the requirement for factor pL in the replication reaction was abolished. Synthetic partially duplex oligonucleotide templates containing Ad origin sequences were constructed in order to determine the structure of the DNA molecules that are active in the absence of factor pL. These experiments indicated that factor pL degrades the 5'-end of the nontemplate (displaced) strand of the Ad origin thereby creating a single-stranded region at the 3'-end of the template strand. Such DNAs are competent for initiation of Ad DNA replication in the absence of factor pL but remain dependent on nuclear factor 1.